Time exposes van Gaal's shortcomings
MAN UNITED 1
(Wayne Rooney 29)
(Nacho Monreal 26, Danny Welbeck 61)
Everyone kept waiting for the inevitable fightback. The late, dramatic winner stamped in the DNA.
But it never came.
Instead, Muhammad Ali continued to lose, first to Leon Spinks and then to Larry Holmes.
Conventional wisdom dictated that Ali's best days were behind him, but few questioned his judgment. No one was qualified. No one had the resume.
So Ali faced Holmes and suffered what ringside spectator Sylvester Stallone called a brutal autopsy on a living man.
Louis van Gaal endured his Holmes moment yesterday (Singapore time).
Time caught up with him and exposed his shortcomings.
There was to be no comeback from Manchester United against Arsenal. There was nothing left in the locker, on the bench or in the Dutchman's dossier.
Van Gaal, like the hallowed club, are hollow shells living off past glories.
The ignominious FA Cup defeat confirmed the suspicions of sceptical United fans. This might be as good as it's ever going to get.
The Gunners made a mockery of the Dutchman's masterplan because there isn't one. Van Gaal's men are suffocating behind his smoke and mirrors.
What lies beneath the revered resumes and daft dossiers is nothing, nothing at all; just a man out of touch with his environment.
Despite being 63 years old, the flesh is willing, but the mind is weak.
He speaks of his fruitless search for a 20-goal-a-season striker despite inheriting one, possibly two, in the much-maligned squad left behind by David Moyes.
They both scored in the FA Cup quarter-final.
As Angel di Maria discovered, whip a cross anywhere in the vicinity of Wayne Rooney's forehead and the United striker usually does the rest.
He's been rather good at it for the last decade.
Danny Welbeck, hand-reared from boy to England man at the United academy, was dismissed by the Dutchman as too unreliable in the penalty box.
Welbeck has struggled for goals in an Arsenal jersey, but United ended the game by lumping long, aerial balls towards Chris Smalling and Marouane Fellaini.
Had he still been at United, Welbeck's pace surely offered a more subtle alternative against a tiring Per Mertesacker.
Instead, United launched balls with the kind of flair and accuracy associated with a cannon from the Crimean War. Van Gaal speaks of intelligent football, but this was retrograde football.
United just don't play this way.
The Dutchman is dangerously associating United's global appeal only with Sir Alex Ferguson's Premier League success, but the club's popularity was built on that traditional Old Trafford swagger.
Ron Atkinson and Tommy Docherty's sides didn't overburden the trophy cabinet, but they always knocked the ball about.
Van Gaal's Route One stuff sends United back to Square One.
His talk of transition is a tired argument. Just consider his signings.
He's assembled the most expensive squad in United's history, but his revolutionaries are hardly storming the gates of nirvana.
Di Maria's greatest impact came when he tugged the referee's shirt for a red card. His mind is clearly elsewhere. His body can't keep up.
The burglary at his Manchester home understandably traumatised his family, but his farewell letter to Real Madrid fans revealed a man sold against his will.
His South American heart never left Madrid.
Van Gaal's other major purchases - Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera - were hauled off at half-time, with both men failing to fall back fast enough to stop Arsenal's counter-attacking.
To add insult to injury, even this move backfired. Throwing in a rusty Michael Carrick into that midfield maelstrom seemed almost cruel.
Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla toyed with Michael Carrick like an energetic kitten pawing at a ball of wool.
Daley Blind fared no better, offering little defensive protection as Mesut Oezil often found himself with the freedom of Old Trafford to operate.
Marcos Rojo committed too many fouls in a game that occasionally passed him by and Radamel Falcao never left the bench.
The Colombian came to replace Welbeck. He watched from the dugout as the Englishman took away United's last chance of silverware.
For the first time in 26 years, they will in all likelihood finish a second season without a trophy.
These were the men signed by van Gaal to overhaul the old guard, but United are going backwards.
In the final minutes, the Dutchman was reliant upon an old Moyes joke. Fellaini was thrown up front to find a goal that never came.
The punchline of van Gaal's predecessor, the symbol of Moyes' mess, has become the Dutchman's desperate get-out-of-jail card.
It's clearly going wrong, but who's going to tell the self-appointed Mr Right?
Like Muhammad Ali, LVG will always be a name to be reckoned with, but he's no longer a force.
He's fading fast and taking Manchester United with him.
Theatre of Broken Dreams
DI MARIA'S FUTURE
Angel di Maria's underwhelming form has led to reports that he is unsettled and could even move on in the summer.
Before the game, the £59.7-million ($124m) record signing tried to quash some of this with an interview in the match programme in which he said: "I feel really good here, I'm very happy."
But after his needless dismissal, the question marks were back and one bookmaker issued a press release offering 11/4 that the Argentinian would leave at the end of the season.
All has not been well, and United have not denied the recent attempted burglary at his house was unnerving.
Things could settle over the summer but that remains to be seen and questions will persist until it does.
PRESSURE ON VAN GAAL
Pressure is certainly growing on Louis van Gaal and his record is no better than that of his predecessor David Moyes, who 12 months ago was under considerable pressure and eventually sacked.
There is a difference, however, in that expectations at the start of the season were different.
Van Gaal did not inherit a side of champions, as Moyes did.
With that in mind, and van Gaal's track record of success, there is less clamour to make a change now.
The Dutchman is likely to get more time and more money in the summer.
He has started slowly in previous jobs and come good. Before last year's World Cup, for instance, he was under fire as Holland boss but delivered when the tournament came round.
NEED TO SHOW IMPROVEMENT
There have been signs that patience among fans is wearing thin and improvement needs to be shown.
The lack of attacking football and reliance on a slow-paced possession game has irritated and disgruntlement has been voiced.
United are fourth in the Premier League but many would argue that has a lot to do with luck as performances have not been great.
Upcoming fixtures against Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City will have huge bearing on their quest for a top four spot.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League - or even the Europa League - for a second successive season would be a huge blow to the pride.
It would then be interesting to see if United's stature would still be alluring enough for the biggest names to sign for them.
Arsenal to face Bradford or Reading in semis
Holders Arsenal will face either Bradford or Reading in the FA Cup semi-finals after winning their quarter-final tie at Manchester United yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The other semi-final sees Aston Villa take on the winners of Blackburn and Liverpool's replay after the pair drew 0-0 at Anfield last Sunday.
Arsenal's 2-1 victory at Old Trafford set up a clash with League One side Bradford, who knocked the Gunners out of the League Cup in 2012, or Steve Clarke's Reading.
Villa secured their place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2010 by seeing off local rivals West Brom 2-0 last Saturday and they will face either Liverpool or Blackburn at Wembley.
The semi-final ties will be played across the weekend of April 18 and 19, meaning Arsenal's Premier League game against Sunderland will be rearranged, as will Villa's home game against QPR which is currently scheduled for April 20. - PA Sport.